As a cultural product widely used by every local household, paper gods are visual and material, but also ritual and conceptual at the same time. The most significant property of the paper gods is their close relationship with folk beliefs, as the product of religious practices. On the one hand, the deities represented on paper gods came from each and every aspect of daily life. On the other hand, the placement of the paper gods in domestic home creates an organized religious space. Paper gods are the most typical visualization of folk beliefs, a medium directly connecting the people and the deities.

(Geng Han. Folk Apotheosis in China: Neiqiu Shenma and Folk Religion Practices.)

 

The rituals related to paper gods can be generally divided into three stages: inviting the deities, making offering, and sending the deities away. The processes of inviting and sending away the deities usually occur during the end of the old and the beginning of the new lunar year as a part of the celebration of the traditional Chinese New Year.[1]

 

Inviting the Deities

The process of inviting deities occurs from the 28th to 30th of December (all the dates are based on Chinese lunar calendar). The women of the household are responsible for the preparation of the ritual, buying the paper god prints, candles, incense, cooking food (like steam breads and date cake) for the offering, as well as making the paste for posting the paper gods.

It is the male family member of the highest seniority who post the paper gods to their corresponding locations in the house. Before posting the paper gods, he washes his hand as a gesture of respect to the deities. The process of putting up the paper gods usually starts from outside of the house, then inside the courtyard, the outer living room, the inner living room, the bedroom, the kitchen, and the barn. After putting up the paper gods inside of the house, the head of the house would come to the Tiandi Table, a special alter for the most important paper gods: Tiandi and Earth God. Tiandi is posted in the shrine above the table, while the Earth God is placed underneath. The last step is posting the minor deities, such as the Well God, the Vehicle God, and the Ladder God.

After all the paper gods are in their place, the senior female member would make offering and pray to each deity in the same order as they were posted, which marks the end of the inviting process.

 

Making Offerings throughout the Year

On the 1st and the 15th day of each lunar month, the family needs to offer incense to the deities in the morning. And for the six most important deities (Tiandi, God of Wealth, Mother Goddess, Tudi, Stove God, and Jiatang), offerings are made three times throughout the day: in morning, at noon, and in the evening.

 

Sending the Deities Away

From the 23rd to 28th of December, starting from the Stove God, the family would make one last offering to the deities, take each paper god off the wall, and burn them. They believe through this process, the deities are sent back to heaven for a short break, until they are invented back to the house.

 

 

[1] Geng, Han. Folk Apotheosis in China: Neiqiu Shenma and Folk Religion Practices: 47.